Winter Hiking by a Chunky Middle Aged Woman

First of all, let me say that I have not always been a fan of winter hiking.  In fact, up until a few years ago, as soon as that first cold wind blew, I went into hibernation mode, staying inside nurturing other hobbies like reading, sewing, drinking hot chocolate…embracing the chunky until Spring came around again.

I don’t know when it changed.  Trail Dames had something to do with it for sure.  I found out I could and would hike in winter IF I just signed up to attend a hike with Trail Dames.  Fast forward to NOW!  I love winter hiking.  The silence, the crunch of snow, the briskness of the air, NO BUGS, NO STICKY HOT HUMID AIR!!!

Along the Appalachian Trail in Maryland

And the views! I can see through the trees and see the distant mountains!

No "green tunnel" here!
No “green tunnel” here!

And anyone for waterfalls???

White Oak Canyon in SNP
White Oak Canyon in SNP

But to love it I had to figure out how to happy in the cold.  That was my challenge!


Everyone tells you to layer in the Winter, but what does that mean?  Well, don’t buy any cotton layers, that is for sure.  No cotton tshirts, no cotton long underwear…Cotton gets wet with sweat, which will chill you beyond belief and possibly right into hypothermia!  No cotton!!!  Here is how I layer…

  • Start with a moisture wicking base layer on both top & bottom.  I have a lightweight base layer and a heavyweight base layer.  If the temps are 30 – 50 I use the lightweight, anything below 30 and I choose the heavyweight.  It is a matter of choice…and only experience will tell what is comfortable for you!
  • For my legs, after the base layer, I put on wind pants (like gym pants).  This is enough on bottom for 99% of my hikes here in the MidAtlantic.  For the other 1% (when it is God-awful skin lashing cold) I put fleece pants on after the base layer, then the wind pants.
  • For my core (top), I follow the base layer with a typical short sleeved hiking shirt.  Then a long sleeved hiking shirt with a hoodie, then a fleece jacket, and finally a wind breaker.  That wind breaker is a key piece of the layering for me.  Wind can flippen freeze me to death…Do not underestimate the power of wind chill.
  • Okay, now let’s talk about head wear, and yes, you better have a good hat.  Not some chintzy piece of crap made out of fibers that won’t keep you warm.  Try a good wool hat…know why? Because wool will insulate even if it gets wet!  Also, make sure that hat pulls down over your ears, or even better, invest in a balaclava because you are going to need something around your neck!
  • My hands are covered with glove liners as well as a heavy glove.
  • For my feet, I just use my usual wool hiking socks with silk liners and a waterproof hiking boot.  My feet generally stay plenty warm (sometimes they even get hot).

So you are all layered up nicely and ready for your first winter hike!  Where do you go? My advice, so you can try out your layers is to pick a route, either on a trail or in the neighborhood, that is around two miles.  In two miles, you will know whether your layers need adjusting.   You do NOT want to find out that you have inefficiently layered on a long hike!!  If you get too warm, that is fine…because you can shed a layer or two as you warm up.  But if you are too cold, then you need to start off with better layers…either heavier weight or more layers.

View from Washington Monument, Boonesboro, MD
View from Washington Monument, Boonesboro, MD


Okay, the layers are working, yay! What’s next?  Let’s talk about water and staying hydrated.  In the winter you may not feel as thirsty as you do on a hot summer day. You might need to force yourself to take a drink of water as you hike down the trail. Camelbak has a neat hydration calculator you can use to give you an idea of how much water you should be taking in as you are hiking.

Sidekick Pauli and BoobOnARock at Possum's Rest along the AT in SNP
Sidekick Pauli and BoobOnARock at Possum’s Rest along the AT in SNP


Yes. Yes, take food.  Yummy stuff high in calories…you get to splurge here!  On a five mile hike I usually take a pb&j sandwich on multigrain bread, trail bar, m&m’s, and something salty, like pretzels.  Sometimes I carry a thermos with a hot beverage, which makes my break extra nice. If you hike with a canine companion, then bring snacks for him/her as well.  🙂

Not all winter hikes are snowy...30 degrees...Sidekick Pauli takes a break in Gambrill SP!
Not all winter hikes are snowy…30 degrees…Sidekick Pauli takes a break in Gambrill SP!

Take Breaks:

Definitely!  I usually hike on the Appalachian Trail, so there are shelters where I can stop, get out of the wind and relax while eating my lunch.  Try to plan your hike so there is a good break place in the middle somewhere.  If it is super cold, an emergency blanket can keep you comfortable so you don’t have cut your break short.

Jim & Molly Denton Shelter on the AT in VA...Nice break spot.
Jim & Molly Denton Shelter on the AT in VA…Nice break spot.

In addition, take little breaks along the way.  You might want to take along a pad to sit on…otherwise you could find yourself sitting on an icy log or in the snow!!

Sometimes I get so warm hiking some of the layers come my hat and gloves.
Sometimes I get so warm hiking some of the layers come off…like my hat and gloves.

That’s it!  Seems like a lot, but with each hike out the prep gets easier!  I usually keep many of these items handy, either in my pack or a designated drawer in my dresser so they are ready to go when I am.

Have fun, stay safe and Hike on!

“You are beautiful!” by Anna Huthmaker

In the hallway of my house, I have giant pieces of paper tacked up on the wall with a bag full of sharpies. Anytime I learn something, have a brilliant thought, or come up with a goal worth pursuing, I write it on the wall. Things like, “do the hard work, and then detach”, and ‘Does this feed my spirit?”

Each one means something personal to me.

You see, this past fall has been kind of a rough one. I have no good reason to say that… friends and family are all happy and healthy, as am I. Life is really, really good.

But, still……

Do you ever go through those times where you know you just need to grow? You need to suck it up, do the hard work and learn something? After six months of vacillating between feeling like I was metaphorically stuck in cement, and spiritual highs where I thought “I am getting it…I am finally getting it!!!”, I have firmly landed in a place of wanting to be better.

My wall plays a huge part in that.

A few weeks ago, I went through a few days of, “Woe is me….I am ugly…I am not good enough…I have nothing worthwhile to offer.” You know the feeling, right? We all have it from time to time.

I was walking down my hall and a slash of orange writing spread across the top of my wall caught my eye. It said, “You are beautiful!”(With a few hearts drawn in for good measure.)

I didn’t write that on my wall.

I am not really sure who wrote it, or when they wrote it. As I stood there, I thought, ‘someone out there thinks that I am beautiful. Someone cares enough to take the time to write it on my wall, (and to include some hearts for good measure.)”

My heart filled with love and gratitude. What a great gift!! From here on out, anytime I don’t feel beautiful, I can just go look at my wall. There is proof positive.

And then, I got to thinking…. I know a lot of people that are really, really beautiful. And I bet that they have days from time to time where they just can’t see it. It made me want to go through life with a shirt that says in giant letters “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!!”

Since I can’t do that, I will start with this…..Dames, you are beautiful.

Each and every one of you.

You teach me all year long about strength, friendship, humor, love, commitment, and determination.

And yes, beauty.

So the next time you are having one of those days where you doubt yourself, and think that you have nothing to give, here is a gift, from my wall to yours……

You are beautiful

Thank you all for being shining examples of beauty in my life!

A few more examples of my favorite kinds of beauty……

Hike Inn

“Why Vermont’s Long Trail” by Bren “Pokey” Miller

When I decided to expand from day hikes to backpacking and going on long distance trails, the next logical step was to decide where. Living in Albany, New York, there were plenty of lengthy trails nearby to choose from. The Long Path, Northville-Placid Trail, even the Finger Lakes Trail are right in my own state. Yet after much research, a multitude of factors tipped the scales to make the Green Mountain State’s pride the best choice for my maiden trek.

It’s the oldest long distance trail in the United States. That held a certain appeal to me. I am fascinated by the things of old. The pyramids, ancient trees, even historical buildings and artifacts. The oldest of the trails? No brainer.

Easy bail outs. Because the first half or so of the Long Trail is shared by the Appalachian Trail, it seems that “civilization” is but a short walk off the trail. With my lack of experience on long hikes and overnights in the woods, having that quick escape if necessary is a prudent choice.

Trees. Lots and lots of trees. Having grown up in the northeast, I am used to seeing pines, hemlocks, and birch trees everywhere. On my day hikes in the Catskills and Adirondacks, I find great calm and joy being surrounded by the trees and fallen leaves. Compared to the Southwest, where I expect to find sagebrush and cacti, which have their own enjoyment and appeal, the beautiful greens of home will provide a comfort to me that will be appreciated on that first trek.

Water, water, everywhere. It’s been written that to find water on the Long Trail, one only needs to look down. Some people report that rain is a near constant (as is mud), while others claim that to be exaggerated yet agree it is a wet trail with frequent water sources. I carry a hydration bladder and three ways to purify water. Gaining experience with plentiful supplies will be most appreciated before I venture to the more difficult routes just as the John Muir or Arizona Trails.

The high peaks. One of my goals on my bucket list is the Northeast 111, that is, the peaks above 4000 feet in New York and New England. All five of Vermont’s 4000+ footers are on the Long Trail. My plan is to hike northbound, taking the first half of the trail on my first attempt, then going back another time to complete the trek. The five high peaks are in that northern, or second, half. My goal is that my body will be in better shape to achieve that feat when the time comes to face that second part in the future.

Population. Unlike some trails where it is easy to go days without seeing another human being, because the southern part of the Long Trail is also part of the Appalachian Trail, it is a popular route with many hikers. As a solo hiker, there is a comfort in knowing that if something were to happen and I was not able to activate my personal locator beacon, someone would eventually come back and be able to provide assistance.

This post was contributed by Bren Miller. She is a middle-aged woman who lives with cats and takes care of her disabled brother. She discovered hiking last year and can’t get enough of it, despite her slow going due to her weight and lack of physical prowess. Her joys in life are my cats, my writing, and hiking. 🙂

“A Walk on the Wild Side” by Victoria Heckler

“Wild” is as much a movie about hiking as it isn’t a movie about hiking. It’s not a documentary about the beauty and wonder of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) nor a hiking how-to-guide – it’s a story of Cheryl Strayed’s journey to overcome her personal demons and come to terms with grief, loss and addiction as she hiked more than 1,000 miles of the PCT.

The movie is just under 2.5 hours long and although readers of the book will be quick to notice omissions from the book (like Strayed’s comical ice axe practice sessions and her inspiring encounters with trail angels), the movie stayed fairly true to the text and, to my gear geek delight, obvious care was taken to ensure that the backpacking gear used in the movie was consistent with the gear available in the mid-1990’s, when Strayed hiked the PCT.

Producers even paid a hefty sum to the Estate of Bob Marley to allow Witherspoon to sport a shirt bearing his likeness, as Strayed did in real life. (Why the hefty sum, you ask? Because Marley’s Estate did not like that the movie featured scenes of drug use. Oh, the irony…)

Both hikers and non-hikers alike will enjoy this movie and it’s definitely not one that you need to “read the book” before seeing, although some may find the film’s depiction of the events leading up to Strayed’s life in flashback format a bit disorienting at times.

Reese Witherspoon did a great job playing Strayed and gave her a depth of character that doesn’t necessarily come through when you read the book or hear Strayed speak in person. In fact, Witherspoon was so convincing in her grit and determination that I think I might actually prefer Witherspoon’s version of Strayed to the real Strayed herself.

Reese is supported by an all-star cast: Laura Dern plays her ailing mother; Thomas Sadoski (Don on HBO’s “The Newsroom”) plays Strayed’s ex-husband, and Gaby Hoffman (“Transparent,” “Girls”) plays Strayed’s best friend Aimee.

However, with the exception of Dern, none of the other supporting roles get enough screen time to even bother reviewing their performances. I initially thought that Dern, at 47, was not old enough to play mother to 38-year old Witherspoon convincingly, but after seeing the film, I think it was Witherspoon who was a bit too “Hollywood old” to play a 27 year-old convincingly.

There’s been much fuss within long-distance hiking circles about what effect mass-marketed movies like “Wild” and the currently-in-production movie “A Walk in the Woods” will have on the Pacific Crest or Appalachian trails. Frankly, after the gross-out scene of one of Strayed’s toenails falling off and her struggles to stand upright with a full pack on, I am not sure that anyone who has never hiked would be inspired to set foot on the trail, but if it does, then all the better.

All in all, I give this movie 4 out of 5 s’mores.


Trip Report: Backpacking with the Trail Dames at Pine Mountain

By Jean Swann (Georgia Trail Dames)

November of 2014 brought a wonderful flurry of backpacking trips! Pine Mountain was my destination for two weekends in a row. I had backpacked once before with Joan West and others from the Trail Dames organization. This was my second opportunity. I arrived at F.D. Roosevelt State Park at Pine Mountain early in the day and took advantage of the extra time to do a little geocaching. The woods were beautifully arrayed in bright fall Crayola colors.

Fall leaf along Pine Mountain Trail
Fall leaf along the Pine Mountain Trail.
Beautiful red leaves.
Beautiful red leaves.

Joan was driving in from North Carolina, where she had just finished thru-hiking the 77- mile Foothills Trail. She met me at Dead Pine campsite at dusk, just as I was polishing off the last of my dinner. The evening was chilly, and it was almost dark, so she quickly hung her hammock, and we retired for the night at 6:30 p.m.!

Joan at Dead Pine campsite.
Joan at Dead Pine campsite.

I thought I would have a hard time going to sleep, but I drifted off in about 30 minutes, snug inside my 10-degree down sleeping bag. This was its maiden voyage, and I was really glad I took it because the overnight low was 23 degrees and Mark wasn’t there for me to put my cold feet on!

I slept until almost daylight, when a group of hikers noisily tramped along the nearby Pine Mountain Trail, probably heading for the Country Store for a hot breakfast. Joan and I met the two other Trail Dames who would be hiking with us – Tonya and Kelly – at the park office, and we were off to Dowdell Knob to do a gear shakedown. By the time we got on the trail, it was nearly lunchtime.

Joan (at left) and Tonya on the rocky trail.
Joan (at left) and Tonya on the rocky trail.

We left Rocky Point parking lot and headed west on the Pine Mountain Trail. There, the trail drops quickly amid huge chunks of rock embedded into the mountainside. At the bottom of our descent, we rock-hopped across Sparks Creek, discovering, in the process, late fall blossoms of the lovely Grass of Parnassus. The delicate white flower is actually not a grass but an herbaceous dicot.

Grass of Parnassus.
Grass of Parnassus.
Tonya rock-hopping while Joan and Kelly wait their turns.
Tonya rock-hopping while Joan and Kelly wait their turns.

After taking advantage of the photo op, we continued until the merry waters of Sparks Creek beckoned us to stop at a creekside campsite and eat our lunches. We left the pleasant creek valley and climbed the ridge on the switchbacking treadway, eventually reaching a parking lot, where Tonya bid us goodbye and headed home. Following the Boot Top Trail, Kelly, Joan and I eased back down the ridge into the valley of Bethel Creek, the scene of extreme tornado damage a few years ago. As the Boot Top Trail rejoined the Pine Mountain Trail, we passed a Boy Scout troop taking a breather. For the next mile and a half, we played leapfrog with them as first one group and then the other stopped for rests or photo sessions.

Joan and Kelly passing a blue blaze of the Pine Mountain Trail.
Joan and Kelly passing a blue blaze of the Pine Mountain Trail.

We reached Whiskey Still campsite in plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely dinner and once again shut down for the evening by 6:30. At dawn we were up and loading our packs to head back. The walk out to Mollyhugger Hill parking lot, where we had stashed a vehicle, was beautiful and only about three quarters of a mile. It was a great weekend trip!

At the Whiskey Still campsite.
At the Whiskey Still campsite.